It was Pitt the Elder who once said “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” in the 18th century.  If Pitt the Elder were around today, he wouldn’t say those words about any dictator, president, or king.  No, they would be most appropriate to describe the way a 63 year old sportswriter has run amok at the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports and made ESPN into his own personal playground.

While ESPN is fond of thinking that no one person is bigger than the four letters, the fact is there are a few select individuals that can pull the strings and make a network worth 50 billion dollars act at their behest.  None moreso than Skip Bayless, a contemporary incarnation of Frankenstein’s monster.  For in Bayless, ESPN is now faced with a creature that rules over the very entity that created it.

How Bayless has traveled this unfathomable journey of turning “professional sports arguer” into a lucrative national television career will always be a mystery to the rational human mind.  Nevertheless, ESPN has been there every step of the way to nurture the “Embrace Debate” movement that has poisoned the daily sports conversation.  This, in spite of Bayless and First Take being universally panned by every level-headed media observer and critic and routinely being named among the worst shows in all of television.  If one were to make a list of the most unsightly and embarrassing moments in the 35 year history of ESPN, First Take wouldn’t just dominate the list – it would be the list.

It’s Bayless’ job to say controversial things and draw a reaction for one reason and one reason only – ratings.  In that regard, ESPN has given him absolute power to say and do as he pleases as long as he delivers viewers.  Whether that be race-baiting professional athletes, personally demeaning them with nicknames like “Bosh Spice,” or taking credit when they succeed for “motivating” them.  Bayless has crossed the line into the inflammatory numerous times over and ESPN has never done a darn thing about it.  The latest example might be the most appalling – saying Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel is an alcoholic and a liar on national television with no evidence at his disposal to back it up.

The claim is repulsive and shocking.  Were any other employee at ESPN to say it publicly, they would surely be suspended immediately.

Case in point: Bill Simmons.

Simmons only went half as far as Bayless did… and was suspended three weeks when he challenged his bosses to do something when he called Roger Goodell a liar.  In their statement handing down the punishment to Simmons, ESPN said “Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards.”

Every employee that is except for Skip Bayless apparently.

Where were ESPN’s journalistic standards in Bayless’ public and potentially slanderous words about Manziel?  Furthermore, where is the so-called accountability?  Did Bayless talk to sources in the Browns organization?  Did he consult team doctors?  Did he speak with anyone about Manziel’s off-field lifestyle?  Did he even try to talk to Manziel personally?  Or, was he merely shooting from the hip in the hopes of winning another worthless fake sports debate?

It’s long been thought that Bill Simmons was the most powerful man at ESPN with his online empire, Grantland, and 30 for 30.  That doesn’t appear to be the case.  The logical argument would maintain that John Skipper is obviously the most powerful man at ESPN, he’s the president after all.  That doesn’t appear to be the case, either.

No, right now the most powerful man at ESPN appears to be Skip Bayless.  Because he’s the only person at ESPN that seemingly faces no consequences for his actions.

Could John Skipper get away with wildly calling Johnny Manziel an alcoholic?  Probably not.  But Skip Bayless sure can!

Almost everyone has to answer to somebody above them in the chain of command.  Writers report to editors.  General managers to owners.  Assistants to the regional manager to the regional manager.  Even John Skipper has to answer to the fine folks at Walt Disney and their shareholders.  All of these individuals have some semblance of consequences to their actions.

But as ESPN has shown time and again – Bayless plays by his own rules.

Plenty of other ESPN personalities besides Bill Simmons have been suspended over the years for various on-air remarks and off-air behavior.  Among them: Dan Le Betard, Max Kellerman, Tony Kornheiser, Dana Jacobson, Max Bretos, Keith Law, Jemele Hill, Rob Parker, and even current debate partner Stephen A. Smith.

Comparing the resume of Bayless to the above names, it makes you wonder what exactly he would have to do to get even a slap on the wrist outside of going on ESPN2, ripping off his suit, and revealing a Fox Sports 1 shirt.  (If those actually exist.)  Bayless has been responsible for each of the following kerfluffles…

Calling Johnny Manziel an alcoholic.

Professing to use his television time to motivate the Dallas Cowboys.

Saying Kobe Bryant’s rape trial gave him “sizzle.”

Lying about his high school basketball career.

Saying he wouldn’t draft white American basketball players.

That’s a pretty impressive resume of causing controversy!  And yet, through it all, ESPN has not even once pulled back the reins on Bayless.  In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.  ESPN executives have fallen in line behind Skip, doing everything short of giving him the keys to the Magic Kingdom.

Marcia Keegan, the ESPN exec who oversees First Take since the departure of Jamie Horowitz, has gone on record as saying that First Take and the “Embrace Debate” movement has been a universal positive for ESPN.  Only the most fervent Bayless apologists and defenders could maintain a position so out-of-touch with reality.  Even the @BaylessDefender guy probably has to stop and think about that one for a minute.

And that begs the question, if ESPN is working so hard for Skip Bayless and shielding him from all the controversies of his own making…

… and if Bayless doesn’t have to be held accountable when he calls athletes liars and alcoholics when everyone else at ESPN would…

…. and if Bayless isn’t held to the same journalistic standards that got Bill Simmons suspended and everyone else at ESPN has to answer to…

… is it Skip Bayless who works for ESPN or is it actually ESPN that’s working for Skip Bayless?

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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